|Sony STR-DA7100ES Receiver|
|Home Theater AV Receivers AV Receivers|
|Written by Andrew Robinson|
|Sunday, 01 January 2006|
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Music and Movies
I began my listening evaluation with a grunge rock classic from Pearl Jam. Their breakout album Ten (Sony) features some of the band’s most notable singles to date and helped to propel them beyond the fate of many of their early ‘90s rock counterparts. During the track “Alive,” the 7100ES’s high frequencies were a bit over-pronounced and quickly became harsh and very digital-sounding at even moderate listening levels. The 7100ES’s somewhat harsh upper frequencies weren’t helped by Eddie Vedder’s overly raspy vocals that never seemed to fill out in the midrange. In fact, the 7100ES seemed to display a rather large frequency void when it came to the midrange, opting instead to focus on the higher frequencies and bass. When it came to the bass, the 7100ES could go plenty deep. However, it lacked a bit of focus compared to some of the other receivers that have graced my listening room. Another thing that became immediately apparent was the 7100ES’s trouble with presenting a cohesive musical experience, since the two frequency extremes were never properly balanced in the mid-band, which made for a sound that seemed to shout more than harmonize. The soundstage was good, a little more vague than most, but not bad. The 7100ES brought a much larger sense of depth to the soundstage than width, and at times was a welcome attribute. Dynamically, the 7100ES really seemed to compress things a bit, never fully allowing the rawness of the music to unleash itself upon my listening space. Switching to the track “Black,” the 7100ES’s musical performance became a bit more palpable. Vedder’s opening vocals had great presence, with the appropriate amount of air and weight. It’s important to point out that it was during this track that the 7100ES presented one of the strongest center images I’ve heard in a receiver to date. However, once the song gets going, the 7100ES’s presentation began to falter slightly. The highs once again became a bit harsh and unnatural-sounding while the bass lacked definition and pitch. Overall, I found the 7100ES to be a bit lifeless dynamically, while cooking up a musical experience that sounded hollow and a little too digital for its own good.
I next opted for The Killers’ debut album, Hot Fuss (Island). During the track “Jenny Was a Friend of Mine,” the first thing I noticed was that the 7100ES’s bass performance became a bit more defined, which helped quench a few of my earlier reservations. The highs, especially crashing cymbals, never sounded natural or resonated with any sense of air and dimension that I’ve come to expect out of receivers in the 7100ES’s price range. I observed the same midrange hole that I found when listening to Pearl Jam. The Killers’ album is grounded more in the higher frequencies, which did not fare well with the 7100ES’s natural tendencies. During the track “Somebody Told Me,” I was treated to an exceptional, almost surround sound experience, with the synthesizers floating about the soundstage and propelling themselves well into my room. It was a bit of a shock and out of character for the 7100ES, but I welcomed the change, for it brought a sense of much-needed life to the music.
Moving on to multi-channel fare, I listened to the DVD-Audio disc of Three Doors Down’s second album, Away From the Sun (Universal/MonsterMusic). Catapulting onto the scene in the late ‘90s with their hit “Superman,” Three Doors Down have been a mainstay of the college rock scene for years. During the track “Running Out of Days,” I noticed the 7100ES’s tendency to pull the vocals away from the rest of the band. Normally, I tend to like this sort of presentation, but the 7100ES seemed to place the band too far into the background and shrouded them from becoming completely clear, despite the format’s increased resolution. This trait also hampered the 7100ES’s ability to present more true to life dynamic contrasts. More so than with standard two-channel music, the increased resolution of DVD-Audio ended up making the high frequencies overpowering when it came to mixing with the rest of the musical elements. The high frequencies gained a little in terms of naturalness over standard Redbook CDs, but they never broke free of their digital constraints. The bass was tighter and more defined, but it didn’t quite extend into my room. In terms of soundstage, the 7100ES was more of the same, presenting a more linear presentation from front to back, never quite filling in the spaces between the speakers. One thing to point out, however, was the 7100ES’s ability to blend the rear speakers into the multi-channel mix much more smoothly than some other receivers that I have encountered, which gave me hope for the 7100ES’s movie soundtrack capabilities. Overall, with both standard CDs and multi-channel fare, the 7100ES seemed to be the very thing between the music and me, which made for a musical experience that ultimately longed for an emotional connection.
Not wanting to throw in the towel, I turned my attention to movies, starting with the Pixar classic “Finding Nemo” (Disney). Right off the bat, the 7100ES’s ability portray a proper surround sound experience that was well-balanced and true in size was more than evident. The characters’ voices were all very well-defined and stood out against the various aquatic elements. However, there was still a slight emphasis on the higher frequencies. I noticed that the 7100ES did a wonderful job with the orchestral beats in the film, balancing them fairly well with some of the more dialogue-heavy scenes, such as Nemo’s first day at school. The bass seemed to gain a bit of impact with movies, which I enjoyed, that it didn’t quite have with music. There was still a lack of midrange energy, resulting in a thinner sound that, combined with the 7100ES’s slight lack of dynamics during certain scenes, had me turning up the volume to compensate. Shifting gears to the video side of things, the 7100ES possessed wonderful color saturation and black levels, which were no doubt enhanced by some of the 7100ES’s internal picture adjustments. Through my DVD player’s HDMI output, which was set to 1080i, I could detect no signs of added break-up or pixilation in the image. Likewise, the 7100ES also kept the film’s already stellar edge fidelity intact. The image through the 7100ES’s HDMI out was always rich and inviting, if not just a little enhanced, which through my system was a nice bonus.
I finished my evaluation of the 7100ES with the D-VHS version of “The Peacemaker” (DreamWorks). I had to view the film through the 7100ES’s component video outputs since it was incapable of sending the image through its HDMI outputs due to the true HD resolution. Because of this, I was able to turn off the 7100ES’s internal video enhancements, which made for an eye-opening comparison. Out of the gate, the black levels during the opening sequence weren’t as dark or as sharply defined as they were with DVDs, but they felt truer to the actual film. White levels too became a bit muted. Skin tones took on a much more realistic appearance, maintaining a film-like balance between color and saturation. During the helicopter sequence, when George Clooney and company are chasing down a convoy of military trucks, I was unable to detect any sort of motion artifacts in the trees or in the rotor blades of the choppers themselves. The explosions were richly detailed and felt very three-dimensional onscreen due to the viewer being able to see through the various layers of fire and smoke. Lastly, the 7100ES’s didn’t rob the city of New York of all of its fine architectural detail, keeping the image free of “jaggies” and pixilation during the film’s climatic chase through the streets. For the sound portion of the film, I found the 7100ES to be more of the same. Through its optical input (which is the only option I have for D-VHS), the treble was again a bit over-pronounced, while the bass remained tight yet lacking in weight. The surround sound presentation seemed a little hollow, but was still nicely balanced between all five of my speakers. Voices were well-produced and clearly intelligible against the film’s many action sequences. When played back at slightly louder levels, the 7100ES was capable of an engaging movie-going experience.